1.  What is Chronic Pain?

Generally speaking, if you have pain that has lasted more than three months and has not been relieved by medical or surgical care, you may have chronic pain.

Pain can be friend or foe. The most common cause of pain is tissue injury or some sort of disease. With common aches and pains, the intensity roughly matches the physical disorder. Some people also have recurring pains - such as headaches or menstrual cramps - that they have learned to recognise as unpleasant but essentially non-threatening.

Basically, pain is a warning from the body that something is wrong. But sometimes the warning system itself fails, issuing alerts that are out of proportion with the underlying problem. Pain alarms can even be triggered when there is no illness or injury at all.

If normal pain is relieved by common pain relievers, then it will often go away in a matter of hours or days. If pain is ever severe, it's a good idea to seek medical help as soon as possible. When the pain alarm rings loudly, especially when you're not sure why, the system is doing its job and you should take it seriously.

Chronic pain may result from an ongoing condition such as:

  • back pain and/or leg pain, which may be caused by spinal diseases;
  • complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), which usually develops in the foot or hand after injuries such as a broken bone;
  • failed back surgery which may have caused nerve damage; or
  • painful neurological disorders resulting from damage to the nerves.

If a description of your pain is not covered here, please visit www.nhmrc.gov.au for information on acute pain.

The most widespread chronic pain conditions - like low back pain, neck pain, arthritis and recurrent headache (including migraine) - are so common that they're often seen as a normal and unavoidable part of life.

Although comprehensive epidemiological data for Australasia is not available, chronic pain is known to be a very common condition. It is estimated that chronic pain affects up to 4 million people in Australia and New Zealand.

Few people actually die of pain. However many die in pain, and many more live in pain.

If you are suffering from chronic pain, discuss treatment options with your doctor and ask to be referred to a Pain Specialist near you.